), one of the most distinguished artists of ancient Greece, was both a statuary in bronze and a sculptor in marble; but his most celebrated works were in the latter nmaterial. (Plin. Nat. 34.8. s. 19.10
, 36.5. s. 4.5 ) It is remarkable how little is known of his personal history. Neither his country, nor the name of his father or of his instructor, nor the date of his birth or of his death, is mentioned by any ancient author.
As to his country, sundry conjectures have been founded on detached passages of some of the later ancient authors, but none of them are sustained by sufficient evidence even to deserve discussion (see Sillig, Cat. Art. s. v.
): all that is known with certainty is, that Praxiteles, if not a native, was a citizen of Athens, and that his career as an artist was intimately connected with that city.
This fact is not only indicated by the constant association of his name with the later Attic school of sculpture, and by Pliny's reference to his numerous works in the Cerameicus at Athens, but there is an inscription still extant, in which he is expressly called an Athenian. (Böckh, Corp. Inscr.
With respect to his date, he is mentioned by Pliny (Plin. Nat. 34.8. s. 19
) as contemporary with Euphranor at the 104th Olympiad, B. C. 364. Pausanias (8.9.1
) places him in the third generation after Alcamenes, the disciple of Pheidias ; which agrees very well with the date of Pliny, since Alcamenes flourished between Ol. 83 and 94, B. C. 448-404. Vitruvius (vii. Praef. § 13) states that he was one of the artists who adorned the Mausoleum of Artemisia; and, if so, he must have lived at least as late as Ol. 107, B. C. 350. If we were to accept as genuine the will of Theophrastus, in which he requests Praxiteles to finish a statue of Nicomachus (D. L. 5.14
), we must extend the time of Praxiteles to about the year B. C. 287, in which Theophrastus died; but it is not safe to rest much upon such documents, occurring in the work of Diogenes. nor is it likely that Praxiteles lived so late.
It is most probable that the date assigned by Pliny is about that of the beginning of the artistic career of Praxiteles.
The position occupied by Praxiteles in the his tory of ancient art can be defined without much difficulty.
He stands, with Scopas, at the head of the later Attic school, so called in contradistinction to the earlier Attic school of Pheidias. Without attempting those sublime impersonations of divine majesty, in which Pheidias had been so inimitably successful, Praxiteles was unsurpassed in the exhibition of the softer beauties of the human form, especially in the female figure. Without aiming at ideal majesty, he attained to a perfect ideal gracefulness; and, in this respect, he occupies a position in his own art very similar to that of Apelles in painting.
In that species of the art to which he devoted himself, he was as perfect a master as Pheidias was in his department, though the species itself was immeasurably inferior.
In fact, the character of each of these artists was a perfect exponent of the character of their respective times.
The heroic spirit and the religious earnestness of the period preceding the Peloponnesian War gave birth to the productions of the one; the prevailing love of pleasure and sensual indulgences found its appropriate gratification in the other.
The contrast was marked in their subjects as well as in their style.
The chryselephantine statue of Zeus at Olympia realised, as nearly as art can realise, the illusion of the actual presence of the supreme divinity; and the spectator who desired to see its prototype could find it in no human form, but only in the sublimest conception of the same deity which the kindred art of poetry had formed: but the Cnidian Aphrodite of Praxiteles, though an ideal representation, expressed the ideal only of sensual charms and the emotions connected with them, and was avowedly modelled from a courtezan. Thus also the subjects of Praxiteles in general were those divinities whose attributes were connected with sensual gratification, or whose forms were distinguished by soft and youthful beauty,--Aphrodite and Eros, Apollo and Dionysus. His works were chiefly imitated from the most beautiful living models he could find; but he scarcely ever executed any statues professedly as portraits. Quintilian (12.10) praises him and Lysippus for the natural character of their works.
His works are too numerous to be all mentioned here individually.
The most important of them will be described according to the department of mythology from which their subjects were taken.